Study: What’s really stopping women from running for office

Women are more politically mobilized than ever before — but that’s not enough to get them into office, according to a new POLITICO investigation.


Historically, women have needed to be persuaded to consider running. But this year, a lot of women seem to have skipped that step. Nationwide, organizations that train potential female candidates also report big bumps this year-with attendance up 145 percent in Philadelphia, 82 percent in Oklahoma and 67 percent in New Jersey. In January, approximately 4.2 million people attended more than 600 women’s marches nationwide, making it one of the largest single-day demonstrations in U.S. history.


It may be tempting to call it a movement, but despite how studies show that women tend to win elections at the same rate as men, they are still far less likely to run at all.


POLITICO’s investigation into the causes of gender inequality in electoral politics found that the traditional explanations — fundraising imbalances, sexism in the media and the voting booth, unyielding party bureaucracies and more — are not as prominent as they used to be.


Today, the biggest reason we don’t see more women running for office is they simply don’t want the job.


Findings from a new poll sponsored by POLITICO, American University and Loyola Marymount University include:

  • A dramatic spike in political activity among Democratic women in particular.
  • The gender gap in political ambition was a solid 15 percentage points, with more men stating they have “seriously considered” running for political office, consistent with research going back over a decade.
  • Barriers that discouraged female candidates before the 2016 presidential election still exist, and converting new energy into candidacies will require new ideas.

After interviewing candidates, elected officials, party operatives and researchers around the country, POLITICO identified the key moments when women drift away from seeking elected office. These insights suggest three untapped strategies that could boost the number of women in elected office over the next decade.

  • To cultivate more candidates, get to them earlier in the process.
  • Go where the female politicians already are.
  • Approach women and men with an entirely different sales pitch: one that reframes politics altogether. When women see political office as a way to fix problems and improve their communities, they become just as eager to run as men.